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Vintage 2021: Spring Update

Cabernet Sauvignon just after bud break

Napa

We are off to a dry but fast start here in Napa. Bud break was only a few weeks ago but already many vineyards are at the 6” shoot mark. So far this season is shaping up to be the driest on record which could mean amazing quality but very high risk for wild fires. As a winemaker, one can only hope that with the fires of the past 5 years, everything around us has burned significantly recently to not be a major fire threat due to lack of abundant fuel.

There was a freak sunshower in Napa this week which hit parts of the valley with a fast but torrential downpour. Other parts of the valley got nothing. I was worried about hail but heard no reports of it, thank goodness. Many growers were on their tractors shortly after making sure the unexpected moisture didn’t contribute to a Powdery Mildew outbreak.

Overall we have had a long but seemingly uneventful frost season so far. The frost fans were a common wake up call for us in March and early April but as the nights are getting warmer now and the fog layer is rolling in I’ve been hearing them less.

Finger Lakes

We haven’t seen bud break in the FLX yet. It snowed this past week so the rumor on the street says snow in April means a warm vintage which is always appreciated. There haven’t been too many deep freezes this winter so bud health looks good so far. Once we pass Memorial Day, the threat of frost is greatly reduced and the season will get going rapidly.

2020 Vintage Wrap Up

2020 was spectacular in the FLX however I haven’t really written about the vintage until now since 2020 was so devastating out here in Napa. It was very hard to process both elation and devastation at the same time so I ended up not really doing my annual harvest recap.

The warm vintage was relatively dry for the area and ranks up there with 2016 in my opinion (although not quite as dry as that). Flavors were amazingly concentrated and acids fresh and bright. Both Trestle Thirty One and my new brand Snowshell Vineyards, which is available through Naked Wines for pre-order now, look amazing and I’m so excited about how these wines will evolve.

In hindsight, 2020 in Napa was not as bad as we anticipated. The whites are amazing. Bright and fresh with concentrated flavors so I am very excited about that. The jury is still out on the reds. It’s very possible some beautiful early harvest reds such as Pinot Noir and early Cabernet will show how much promise 2020 had as a vintage. Unfortunately we already know many wineries have declared they will not be making a 2020 vintage also. The emotions are still raw and the full impact is still undetermined. In the meanwhile, please support your favorite wineries so that many who were directly impacted can begin to rebuild.

Vintage Report 2019

I’m so honored today to be giving the keynote this morning at the Vintage Report Napa 2019. I’m excited to share notes from both my East Coast and West Coast vintages since I feel we as a country are quite separated into CA and Non-CA wine regions. There is so much we can learn from other area beyond where we are making wine and this is one of the central themes of my talk.

My life as an MW has slowly merged into my life as a winemaker and this was particularly evident in 2018. I was able to pull from the MW knowledge to make two very special wines; one on each coast.

My East coast wine is of course, the Trestle Thirty One 2018 Riesling. Previous to 2018 my wines have had a common style. Dry and textured with a clean, fresh mouthfeel and focused fruit and flint character. The 2018 vintage surprised and delighted me with a challenge when the fruit had a 30% Nobel rot influence and the Brix shot up to 24.5 in the press even though all evidence of prior samples pointed to a 19 Brix harvest. This gave me the opportunity to explore a style similar to an Austrian Smaragd. It is by taste dry but incredibly rich and concentrated. I tasted a number of them before kicking off the fermentation and used the style as my template for how to manage my Riesling.

The second wine was made in Oakville and was a dessert style which was originally planned to be made from Botrytis grapes. Due to the dryness of Napa, Botrytis is naturally hard to come by so I opted to follow Italian tradition and make a Passito method wine. We dried the grapes, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon both, on the vine to 34 and 36 Brix respectively. Then we used a Tokaji pressing method to soak the dried fruit and during the 12 hour press cycle extract as much precious juice as possible. We then used Sauternes inspiration for a French oak fermentation with 1/3 being new and a Sauternes yeast to finish it off. The finished wine is a beautiful mix of these styles which I would have never even thought of without my MW.

So if I can leave everyone with one theme from this it is as winemakers we can not isolate ourselves in our home regions. Collectively we can make better wine by learning from each other and about regions which on the outset it may seem we have nothing in common with.

For info on the rest of my talk about specifics of Napa and the Finger Lakes in 2019 I hope you can attend this morning. If not, perhaps the video will be posted by the Vintage Report team.

Seriously? Instant Pot Wine – Why is this a thing?????

It is not often I have a WTF moment in winemaking however today I was introduced to the concept of instant pot wine.  You can read the entire post here but personally I have so many issues with this I’m not even sure where to start.

  • “This Guy (ME!) Figured out How to Make Instant Pot Wine”

I know he is excited, because making your own wine is exciting and cool but literally nothing he is doing is new or unusual in the grand scheme of winemaking.  He has figured out how to use a type of vessel (instant pot) to ferment wine in the most basic sense. He has joined the hundreds of years of winemaking tradition by doing the exact same thing.

If you plan to enter the world of home winemaking (which is also not new!) I highly recommend in investing in a couple of glass carboys and airlocks.  It takes the same amount of time as this guy’s wine in the instant pot and is easier and likely much cheaper.

  • Sanitizing with bleach!

Please don’t.  Please use something a bit more home winemaker and food friendly.  SO2 solutions work great for this.  So does Vodka.  Both are better than bleach. Ugh…

  • Ingredients… where to start?

Welch’s Grape Juice (64oz bottle)

There are a bunch of wineries around the US that cater to the home winemaker by storing juice for use in home winemaking.  If you insist on purchasing store bought juice make sure it is 100% grape juice and that it doesn’t contain preservatives such as Potassium Sorbate or Potassium Benzoate.  Other fruit juices can be tricky to ferment at home so I highly recommend starting with grape based juice until enough experience with fermentation is built up to branch out.

1 cup of sugar (granulated)

There were a lot of comments wondering why you had to add the sugar on this post.  The reason would be that grapes for grape juice are not picked at the higher sugar levels as grapes for wine.  So if you want your wine to have commercial wine like alcohols the sugar is needed.   This process is called Chaptalization after the French chemist Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal which was first recorded in 1765.  In Roman times, honey was used.

1 packet Lalvin Red Wine Yeast (They also have White Wine Yeast)

There are hundreds of types of wine yeast and they are not just limited to Red and White.  Go to your local home brewers supply store or look on Amazon.com.  It is widely available.

  • DO NOT CLOSE THE VENT!!!!

I’m not sure he really emphasizes this enough but this is a huge safety issue.  Yeast can build up a lot of pressure and can cause your instapot to turn into an insta explosion in your kitchen.  He actually encourages opening and closing the vent but in reality the vent should always be open.  I know the instapot is a pressure vessel but don’t take the chance. Another safety issue with home winemaking is CO2 build up. Please do not put the instapot into a confined space where there is not a lot of ventilation.  CO2 build up can also be a hazard depending on the volume of the fermentor.

  • Don’t drink a lot of mid-ferment wine.

This can lead to some uncomfortable stomach moments.  I’ll just leave it at that.

In Summary…

This is not new.

It has always been easy to make wine at home.  Just keep it under the legal limit of volume for home winemaking (200 gals per TTB regulations)

There are LOTS of great resources for home winemakers out there that are better than this DIY in a pressure cooker.

Winemaker Magazine

My friend’s book “The Winemaker’s Answer Book”

Presquile Wine Cellars Home Page

Midwest supplies home page

Just Google “Home Winemaking”